Not one MTB-MLE promise delivered (First of two parts)

By Estanislao Albano, Jr.

“ Near the end of its ninth year of implementation, the MTB-MLE is still zero in the delivery of its promised benefits enumerated in DepEd Order No. 74, series of 2009, which institutionalized it…”

Note: This was my position statement during the National Forum on the Language of Teaching and Learning in the Philippines organized by the Department of Education (DepEd) and USAid on February 22, 2021. Key officials of the DepEd led by Secretary Leonor Briones and the biggest names in the MTB-MLE movement in the country including lawyer Magtanggol Gunigundo I who authored the bill that became the language policy were on hand but the statement went unchallenged.
Near the end of its ninth year of implementation, the MTB-MLE is still zero in the delivery of its promised benefits enumerated in DepEd Order No. 74, series of 2009, which institutionalized it. That s more than enough to warrant scrapping the policy because there’s no logic in maintaining a policy that does not work and is very harmful to learners to boot. Let me prove my assertion.
Promise 1: Quicker learning of reading
Finding 1: Not only has the MTB-MLE utterly failed to deliver on the promise, the reading woes of the country worsened during its implementation.
First, documentary Pag-asa sa Pagbasa aired by I-Witness, GMA 7 on September 1, 2018 featuring the 29 Grade 7 non-readers in the Sauyo High School in Novaliches, Quezon City. These students belonged to the first batch of MTB-MLE elementary graduates.
Second, the admission of DepEd-Region 5 Regional Director Gilbert Sadsad that there were 76,000 students from Grade 1 to Senior High School across the region who are either struggling to read or unable to read. (DepEd Bicol launches 5Bs to improve reading proficiency, Bicol Mail, February 21, 2020) This is a Bicol newspaper sticking to the account that Sadsad had said some of the learners which were subject of the Philippine Daily Inquirer controversial expose last February were unable to read. DepEd national officials had claimed that the problem in Bicol was only lack of comprehension and not illiteracy.
Third, the 2019 Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM) found that 27 percent of the Filipino Grade 5 pupils could not read based on the SEA-PLM definition of reading literacy. (SEA-PLM 2019 Main Regional Report Children Learning in 6 Southeast Asian countries, Pages 41-44). The report of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) and the United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) states that the subject pupils were still at the stage of matching single words to an image of a familiar object or concept” and that the students have not yet developed the essential foundational skills that are the building blocks of becoming a proficient reader after five years in school.
How do I know that the non-reader problem took a turn for the worse during the MTB-MLE era? The DepEd does not release reading assessment data so we cannot trace the progression of the population of non-readers over the years but according to a data cited in the document The Philippines country case study by Rhona B. Caoli-Rodriguez 2007 published in the UNESDOC Digital Library, the nationwide non-reader incidence in 2005 and 2006 were 1.74 percent and 2.56 percent, respectively. This means the reading problem dates back to the mid2000s but it was only in November 2019 the DepEd addressed the problem of deficient literacy skills through Memorandum No. 173, series of 2019, which launched Hamon: Bawat Bata Bumabasa initiative indicating when taking action became absolutely necessary.
If anybody claims the non-reader phenomenon is caused by other factors and the policy has nothing to do with it, then the question is of what worth is the promise to quicken the learning of reading since it can be rendered ineffectual? Further, what do we need the MTB-MLE for if it cannot assure that children learn to read and the Policy on Bilingual Education (PBE) is after all more effective in teaching reading?
The claim of MTB-MLE advocates that the reason the policy is not delivering the expected results because the current model is too short does not apply to the reading problem unless they are admitting that under the policy, the entire elementary grades are needed to make a child read.
Private schools stick to the old language policy and their Grade 1 pupils read in English and they have no non-readers in Grade 2 while in public schools non-readers abound in the secondary.
Finding 2: The learning of reading in English cannot be quickened because in the MTB-MLE Curriculum, reading in English is only introduced in the second semester of Grade 2.
This delayed timetable in the teaching of reading in English meant that our Grade 4 pupils who took the 2019 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) were reading in the test language for one year and a half at most compared to the three years the examinees from other countries have already been reading in their test languages. Thus, the MTB-MLE was the culprit for our TIMSS debacle for two reasons: first, given that 27 percent of our Grade 5 pupils could not read as found by the SEA-PLM, naturally, Grade 4 pupils have around the same or even higher non-reader rate thus more than a quarter of our 2019 TIMSS examinees could not read; and second, those who could read were one year and half years behind the other examinees in reading competence. No wonder we placed last of 58 countries.
The DepEd has a similar finding contained in DepEd Memorandum No. 173, series of 2019: Low achievement levels in English, Math and Science appear to be caused by gaps in learners reading comprehension. This means there are many low performing learners who could not comprehend Math and Science word problems that is written in English. Hence, they were unable to demonstrate their knowledge in the content areas. Elementary and high school learners are still deficient in literacy skills in language and content areas, more so in reading.
Were the children reading in English starting in Grade 1, this problem would not be of this magnitude as could be assumed from the fact that it was only in November 2019 that the DepEd issued the memorandum rallying the entire DepEd force against the problem of reading literacy deficiency with the Bawat Bata Bumabasa campaign.**To be continued

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